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Lord of the Rings Review
Post by trog @ 05:43pm 26/12/01 | Comments

I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings when I was 12 – I’d recently finished reading the Hobbit, an old, well-worn copy of the book that my mother had been foisting upon me for ages. I finally gave in and read it, and then was immediately addicted to Tolkien’s world. I jumped into the Lord of the Rings with unbridled enthusiasm, ploughing through the Fellowship of the Ring, unable to take my eyes off the pages – much to the disappointment of my school teachers, because I’d keep busting it out in class when I was supposed to be doing maths, or something equally unexciting.

I, like many others of this generation, have longed to see a conversion of this to the big screen. I’d seen bits and pieces of the original movie that was made, but it always looked so… average. I simply couldn’t bring myself to sour the memory of such an epic tale by watching a sub-standard production of it. An avid reader in general, I really enjoy seeing books brought to life on the screen – as long as they’re good enough and are loyal enough to the original story. However, Hollywood usually manages to spoil most of these movies in several ways – taking artistic license in order to make the movie better, which always makes it dumb.

Bearing this in mind, I greeted the news of a major motion picture for Lord of the Rings with significant amounts of distrust – I’d never heard of Peter Jackson, a New Zealander with only a few movies to his name. How could he possibly have what it takes to bring to life one of the greatest stories ever told? These doubts were somewhat mitigated after seeing the early previews – the awesome scenery and effects showed a lot of promise. The movie was to be released in Australia on December 26th, 2001, a few scant days after a release in the USA, so I had vowed to not read or listen to anything about the movie so I could try and judge it as objectively as possible. Nevertheless, a few reports permeated my self-imposed cone of silence, all of them heightening my eagerness.

Along with hundreds of other people trying to escape the oppressive Brisbane summer heat, I filed into the cinema. Cleverly, they’d started letting people in almost an hour before the movie started and deigned to leave the air conditioning off, which was really appreciated well by the crowd. Fortunately, I’d smuggled in a GameBoy Advance, which I was able to play for a few minutes before becoming frustrated at its obsidian black screen in the absence of perfect lighting conditions. Thanks to Nokia and the back-lit LCD screen of my 8210, I was able to enjoy a few minutes of Snake, which helped whittle away the time.

I’m not going to give a play-by-play of the movie – if you’ve read the book, you know what happens. If you haven’t, then you’re probably seeing the movie so you don’t have to read it, and then you can act like you read it at parties and stuff so people don’t think you’re a cultural philistine. The thousand-odd pages of text is probably off-putting to a lot of people, especially the folks of today that are used to getting their stories of a screen rather than off a page. The writing itself is somewhat excessively flowery and a bit old-fashioned in some cases, and that is probably off-putting to a lot of people. It isn’t as bad as Shakespeare though. (Ironically, I found out in this review of the movie – which is incidentally a good read and has some great other stuff in there about Shakespeare – that Tolkien apparently “thought Shakespeare to be pernicious nonsense”.)

For newbies to the world of Tolkien – never fear! Contrary to what bookshops around the world will be telling you (judging from the sudden influx of Tolkien-related materials onto the shelves), you don’t need to rush out and buy the Hobbit and the full trilogy to understand what is going on. The movie kicks off with a lengthy (but not overly long) introduction, giving you an overview to the world of Middle Earth and a brief history of the Ring that inspired this bruehaha.

Still swimming in the post-movie feeling of total and utter contentment that this movie left me in, I’m not sure where to go from here. There are simply so many things that I liked about this movie, I don’t know where to begin. What I’d really like to do is go through and catalogue every single emotion I had during the movie, but unfortunately I forgot to take a notebook into the cinema with me, and in any case the only way you’re going to understand is to see the movie yourself.

The visual effects are the first thing you’ll notice. Right from the start, everything is impressive. The scenery is beautiful – the line between reality and computer-generated stuff is blurring further every time I visit the cinema. Middle Earth has been recreated as faithfully as possible – one of the best points about this movie for Tolkien fans is its faithfulness to the book – not just in storyline, but in attention to detail. The hobbit holes, the buildings, the costumes, the scenery and the characters – everything has been implemented almost flawlessly. Sitting in the cinema seeing one of my all-time favourite stories rendered so accurately on the screen was something that I will remember for a long time, and will quite probably ruin every other movie-from-book I’m yet to see (except, hopefully, the next two Lord of the Rings movies).

The characters are, of course, the heart of the story, and thus the heart of the movie itself. Frodo is played by Elijah Wood – you might remember him from such movies as Deep Impact and Forever Young. Elijah does a great job at being Frodo, displaying all the appropriate characteristics to make him seemingly the perfect choice. His emoting in some scenes is excellent and is exactly as I had imagined them, showing an appropriate mixture of fear and stout hobbit-esque resilience. Sean Astin, much chubbier than I remembered him being in Toy Soldiers and the Goonies, plays Samwise Gamgee, and does a very good job as the bumbling, over-protective friend of Frodo. A couple of other dudes play Merry and Pippin, along for the ride. Merry and Pippin are perhaps a bit under-used, never really getting much of the focus, but this is a minor concern and doesn’t detract at all from the story. Readers of the trilogy will know, of course, that we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the Two Towers. As a team, the four hobbits excel. It is worth noting out that Pippin, Merry and Sam provide sufficient comic relief without resorting to using a stupid animated character with floppy ears obviously tailored for children.

Ian McKellen is the venerable Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf cops quite a bit of focus in this movie, as one would expect for a wizard of his reknown. McKellen does an outstanding job – his costume is simple yet perfectly suited, the floppy wizard hat is just right and his staff is simple yet obviously powerful. In some scenes he looks like a frail old man, but in others his strength and power are shown with great effect. Viggo Mortensen plays Aragorn son of Arathorn, arguably one of the most bad-ass characters in any tale ever told, and does a great job. There are some really well-done scenes that I loved – a scene at the end before he takes on a horde of Orcs… Awesome stuff.

Sean Bean plays the troublesome Boromir, a character who I’ve always felt was harshly done be. I was a bit disappointed in the way he was handled when he was first introduced (actually he, Legolas and Gimli barely got introduced at all, they were sort of just thrust into the story without much in the way of fanfare… anyway). He got the usual bad guy treatment, some shots showing an evil look, obviously portentous of things to come. However, this was somewhat mollified by some later actions, and in the end he was perfectly portrayed, right down to the last detail.

Orlando Bloom plays Elven Legolas, and looks great – in fact all the Elves look really good – Elvish facial features and dress – exactly as you would have imagined. Amazingly, John Rhys-Davies plays Gimli – I say amazingly, because I had no inkling it was him when watching the movie. This brings up another impressive feature of the movie – how well-scaled everything was. With a combination of some clever computer graphics and some well-done camera work, the dwarves and hobbits are the perfect size in comparison to the humans, who seemingly tower over them.

There are, of course, a bunch of other characters. Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith from the Matrix) is a great Elrond, and gets some good screenplay that you might not be expecting. Liv Tyler is cast as Elrond’s daughter Arwen, and there’s a few scenes with her that might annoy hardcore Tolkien fans – but nothing that will ruin the movie. There were a few changes in the script that were planted here and there around the place to try and make it a bit more suitable for people that hadn’t read the books, and to explain some of the bits and pieces that make up the world of the Ring. Though I was hoping for a totally accurate reconstruction, I found these bits fit in really well. The other creatures of the Tolkien universe are all there and looking fantastic. The Ringwraiths are impressive and terrifying, the goblins and orcs look vicious and nasty. Very well implemented.

The sound effects and music definitely rates a mention. The cinema had the volume cranked, which was great – not too loud and not so loud that it was distorting, but loud enough so that you jumped out of your seat when the speakers kicked in at full bore. The sound effects were great – the sibilant noises of the Ringwraiths and the clash of swords at full volume made the cinema experience even better. The music was a great accompaniment, and I’ll actually be looking for the soundtrack the next time I’m at the shops.

While some fully hardcore fans of the Lord of the Rings might take exception to a few of the alterations to the story, I really can’t complain about them too much. In most places, the movie is so true to the original that it more than makes up for these liberties. I was especially impressed by some of the small details that weren’t really made obvious to the viewer but were there for the fans anyway – things like the Great Tree at Bilbo’s birthday party, and the Elven clips used to fasten the cloaks of the Hobbits after leaving Lothlorien. No doubt there is a whole slew of minutiae that went unnoticed by me.

One of my few complaints about the movie was the fight scene in Moria when the goblins attacked the Company – unfortunately instead of using nice, slow camera work to show off some fancy swordplay by Aragorn and Boromir, it was the usual jerky, fast-moving slaw that I’ve come to expect from some movies. I’m guessing this was done primarily to give the impression of the chaos that was occurring as the party frantically defended themselves, and in that respect it was fine, but…

Overall – I’ll definitely be seeing this again a few times on the big screen to soak it up all over again. Seeing some of my favourite characters brought to life in such a perfect manner quite literally blew me away, and the faithfulness of the movie to the book was merely the cream on the cake. Some of the scenes are recreated so accurately from the book that I was quite literally bouncing around in my seat in excitement. Easily one of the best movies I’ve seen in its own right, and undoubtedly the best conversion from a book.

This one comes highly recommended. If you haven’t read the books, that should be your next step, even if it means bowing to the uninhibited opportunism being demonstrated by publishers and book retailers alike. Start at the Hobbit so you can see where it all started, then read the Lord of the Rings trilogy itself.

Links:

- Official site: http://www.lordoftherings.net
- Media: Wallpapers on Wireplay
- IMDB: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0120737